Why We All Need a Will – Today.
We don’t realize how incredibly important having an updated will is, until it’s too late.
On June 1, 2021, my mom called to say she couldn’t breathe well and was heading to the ER. The next day she pulled me aside and said do you remember the red folder? It’s in the white cabinet. Of course, I knew the red folder and the white cabinet – they’ve been ingrained in mine and my brother’s minds. She continued, they don’t think I’ll make it through the night… but you two will be okay – the red folder has everything you need, remember the red folder?
Two terrible weeks later, my mother Paula, died of cancer, and my brother and I became adult orphans at just over thirty because my dad died 4 years ago. So now what? We grabbed the red folder.
What we discovered left me in disbelief. It was impossible for my brother or me to administer her estate because my mother had not updated her will after my father’s death. He was still listed as beneficiary. They hadn’t updated their wills since 2015 when they still lived in Vermont, where I grew up and they lived until 2017.
The next day as we sat in the funeral home, the director said the first thing you’ll want to do is make an appointment with the Wake County Estates Division so you can probate her will. Since she was a widow and doesn’t have a surviving spouse, whomever is listed in her will needs to get an appointment and have all these things ready to prove you can administer her estate. Prove I can administer the estate – I’m her next of kin… wait what?
When I went on the Wake County Estate Division website to make an appointment the first available one was… six weeks away! The auto reply said make sure you have all the necessary papers ready to probate the will, but we can’t help you with legal advice. I opened the eight attachments, read through the hundreds of papers, and just sobbed. How was I going to do this?
When we finally met with the clerk, I handed her all the documents. Her reply was hmmm, her will was from Vermont? We need more paperwork.
More paperwork? I just handed her hundreds of documents. I need to sell my mom’s car. I need to get access to her insurance monies to pay off doctors’ bills. I just paid for all her funeral expenses. I need to probate her will. I need these letters of testate to get access to ANYTHING. And you’re telling me, I need to do more paperwork?!
As my eyes burned with tears, the clerk kindly said take a deep breath – I’ve got you. We can do this. She handed me more paperwork with very specific instructions: my parents’ lawyers needed to fill out an affidavit saying they signed and notarized as witnesses to her will.
Almost four months after my mom died, I finally got my letters of testamentary, which meant I could act on behalf of her estate and start closing accounts. I could sell her car, pay her doctors’ bills, and all the painful things I need to handle to close her estate.
And then I could finally grieve properly.
August is National Make-a-will month, and I encourage you to please don’t leave your loved ones guessing what your wishes are or placing this burden on them. If cost is an issue and you cannot afford hiring a lawyer, the state of North Carolina accepts handwritten and dated notes with your loved ones signatures on them as valid wishes and there are many free sources online that you can find as well. Take it from someone who had to go through this even with a will that was out of state, death is tragic and hard enough already, don’t wait until it’s too late – please make a will today.
by Casey Therrien
In 2021, at the age of 34, Casey Therrien was an adult orphan. Having no one her age that understood what she was going through, and loved ones who had good intentions ended up causing more pain with words or their silence, she turned to Transitions LifeCare for grief counseling. Inspired by her experience, Casey found a passion in advocating for those who are grieving. Casey offers a listening ear, resources, and a space to simply be.